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Israeli Parents Ask: Should We Dismiss The Arab Cleaner At School?

Mishael Zion is the father of two students at Eitan School in Jerusalem. After a recent attack on a public bus near the school, some parents wanted to bar the Arab cleaning lady from the school when students were there. But Zion objected and said she should be allowed to continue.

Two Palestinians armed with a gun and a knife boarded a bus in Jerusalem last week, and killed two Israelis and injured about 15 other passengers.

The attack took place just 200 feet from the Eitan School, an elementary school with a Jewish religious curriculum. One parent had almost boarded that bus, but at the last minute, his wife Rebecca Amar told him to take the car.

"It was like a miracle that he didn't take the bus, because [the attack] could happen when he was on the bus," Amar said.

Immediately after the attack, parents at the school started sending messages on WhatsApp. Mishael Zion, father of two students, takes out his cell phone and reads the exchange that went back and forth on the messaging app.

"At 10:15 someone is asking, 'Is everything OK at the school?' Someone immediately says, 'What's going on?' And someone asks, 'Did you speak to the school?' And someone responds and said, 'I spoke to the school and everyone is fine.'"

Once they knew their kids were safe, the discussion changed direction.

"Immediately, by 10:26, 10 minutes after the first report, someone says, 'But we have to kick out the Arab cleaner.' And someone says, 'Yes, urgently.'"

The Eitan School employs a Palestinian janitor from Jerusalem. Rebecca Amar was among those who wanted her fired.

"She cleans well," Amar said. "I am speaking with her. I smile and she smiles. I mean, we have good relations. But we don't know who is her family."

Amar worried that a relative or friend of the cleaner could enlist her to do something bad at the school.

"You have to do all that you can do to be sure that your children will be safe," she said.

Yet Zion and other parents wanted the cleaner to stay.

"We want to protect our children," he said. "But we do not want to discriminate against innocent people, or give into terror by treating other people the way in the past we Jews have been treated."

A Debate, Then A Vote

Some parents offered to chaperone the janitor around during the school hours. The debate continued. Zion spoke with the principal, who told him the janitor herself was frightened.

Both the principal and the cleaner declined to be interviewed, and the cleaner did not want to give her name. But here's what happened next, according to Zion. The principal took the cleaner around to each classroom, and gave this message.

"At a time like this, in a Jewish religious school, what we as religious people do is we try and see the other person for who they are and for the image of God that is in them and that way we employ the image of God that's within us," Zion said, paraphrasing what the principal told him she had said to the children.

Zion says he and other parents were moved. That night the PTA voted 10 to 4 to keep the cleaning woman and let her work during school hours. Some parents are now petitioning City Hall to turn over the decision. But Rebecca Amar conceded gracefully.

"On one side, I was happy that there was respect for this person. Because she is a person, OK? She is a human," she said.

The morning after the vote, Zion said, the janitor rushed into school shaking. On her way to work, she said, Israeli police ordered her to lie on the ground and pour out the contents of her bag. After she was released, she hurried to the school.

She later told Zion the Eitan School is one place she feels safe.

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